Getting ready for my conference!

So I leave tomorrow night for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Conference. I am super excited – although I am overwhelmed at how much I still need to get done! I have to get some physical materials ready and pack, but more than anything I need to get ready for my in-laws to be here without me for 4 days. And they’ll be taking care of both my children for 2 of those days and the baby chose this week to get off her schedule. So I have to work on naps and make a metric ton of baby food. And the house is a mess! Ah, the life of a writer, right?

So I was looking through the conference schedule yesterday and there are just so many great sessions… and they all run over each other. I actually had to break down and make a color-coded schedule in Excel to see which sessions I could do without conflict and which ones overlapped and by how much (they’re also all different lengths). Conveniently, I should be getting a jump drive with all the session handouts already on it (to save paper) so I won’t have to sneak in to get handouts and then sneak out to go to another session. I hate doing that – it makes me feel dirty.

But I have tough decisions. For Example, Bernard Cornwell (who is the whole reason I’m going to this conference) is giving a three hour talk on Saturday, but it conflicts with two other great sounding sessions – one on making your story more complex with subplots and secondary characters and one on turning your book research into publishable articles. And that’s only one example. I guess I should be glad there are so many cool sessions, but seriously.

One thing I’m really hoping for is to get inspired to choose a genre for my next project. I’m still totally undecided between historical fiction and urban fantasy… and the more I think about it, the more undecided I am. I’m hoping to get a sense of the market right now and also how to go about starting each genre and maybe I’ll get some little tidbit that will catapult me in one direction or another. I’ll be done with my revision at some point in the next few months and I want to start on my next project while I’m querying.

So, anyone else going to this conference?

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I don’t want to write because of books. Weird, right?

So there was a blogfest going around about what book sparked your desire to write. I wanted to participate but I couldn’t think of a single book. Not one. And I thought that was weird. Then today I was watching the morning TBS syndicated showing of “Supernatural” (which I totally love, by the way) and the title sequence song was “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas. And it struck me that Kansas was why I wanted to be a writer.

If you aren’t familiar with Kansas, they were really big in the ate 70s (I think?). I was born in the late seventies, so my exposure to them was due to my father. He was a guitarist, you see, and he listened to music all the time (just like me – so is it nature or nurture, do you think?). Anyway, he loved Kansas. And the Beatles and Dan Fogelburg and lots and lots of classical music. It didn’t occur to me until I reached middle school that I could listen to anything else.

But I digress. The thing about Kansas is that, like many similar bands in that decade, they wrote story music. It was poetic and LONG and had lots of electric organ solos (which I hate). But I remember being on a girl scout trip when I was maybe 10 years old? And I was listening to a Kansas mix tape on my walkman. I was bored so I was really listening to the words instead of the tune, which was more normal for me. It was “Closet Chronicles” and it’s about a king who disappears. I can’t even summarize it or pull out a few salient lines because the whole song is the story. And as I listened to it and stared out the car window at the high desert landscape, a whole story unfolded in my head and I though “this is it”. And then I listened to “Nobody’s Home” and “The Wall” and they just evoked such vibrant images in my mind as we drove – images that interwove with the landscape and even now when I hear “Coset Chronicles”  I see the dusty colors of the mesas and scrub – I think we were driving near Lake Havasu. And when that story plays out in my mind, it’s set in a castle that looks like a towering rock formation.

So I don’t want to write because of books. I want to write because of music. I think that’s weird, but what can you do? I guess it’s all about living in an imaginary world, whether of words or images or harmonies. They’re all linked together for me, anyway. And Kansas has a lesson on story structure, too, but maybe that’ll be my next post.

So let me leave you with a few lines from “Carry On…” that still give me chills:

“You will always remember, that will equal the splendor. Now your life’s no longer empty. Surely Heaven waits for you.”

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Filed under Music, Reflection

When Words Fail Me

So, I have really cinematic dreams. Some of them are cohesive and I jot them down to use as stories later. But some of them are just scenes that, once awake, never resolve into something useful. Like last night. In this dream there were four people (I was in the perspective of one person but it was third person omniscent, like most of my dreams) exploring some magical cave. As the narrator, I understood that this system was a series of connected caves, all of which were diffrent. It was magical or something – I’m not sure. And the idea was that no one had made it past the first few caves and returned to tell the tale.

The part of the dream that is pertinent to my thoughts today is as follows. The POV character wakes up (the four had gone to sleep in an abandoned farm yard – in a cave. Remeber how I said it didn’t make sense?) and the other three are gone. She walks down a short passage and sees the next cave through a hole in the rock wall. Through the hole is a huge cave full of steaming water with a massive rock formation in the middle. In reminded me of “Kubla Khan”, which is a column in Kartchner Caverns in southern Arizona (If you’ve never heard of this cave, you should totally go look at some pictures. It is unreal). Anyway, the other characters are diving off the rock formation into the water and the POV character just stands in the opening watching them.

So, this sounds kind of dry but what it got me thinking about is how can I possibly describe this scene? It was hours ago and I can still see it in my mind. It was so vivid – I could feel the heat from the water and the damp steam. I could smell the wet rocks and hear the splashing water. And the colors were these vibrant browns and reds in the rocks and the water was this neat steely blue and the lighting was really moody. I can see it, but I know I’m not describing it right and it’s frustrating. So maybe I need to start trying harder to capture the imagery that pops up in my dreams as an exercise. It’s just so hard to put those sense memories into words – it’s like trying to describe music or dance. It seems so clinical and didactic when compared to the images in my head.

So, to taunt you, below is the opening scence form White Nights, a lovely movie from the 80’s starring Mikhail Baryshnikov. Describe this scene. I dare you. I guess that’s why music and dance and art exist – to describe images and feelings that transcend language.

 

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Dr. Horrible Demonstrates How to Crush Your Audience

I was re-watching Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog last night with some friends and I was reminded of it’s masterful construction. If you haven’t seen it, it is a three episode web musical written by Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly) and stars Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillian, and Felicia Day. It is totally brilliant. Totally. The premise is ridiculous, the music is delightful and well written, and for all it’s frivolous-ness, it is actually quite poignant and stirring. I know you can watch it on streaming Netflix and you can find it piece-meal on YouTube (see the above link) and you can buy it from iTunes. I really, really recommend it.

Warning: Spoilers…

The main character, Dr. Horrible, is a bumbling, slightly incompetent, and inappropriately lovable villain who has a video blog to document his evil plans. He is trying to get into the “Evil League of Evil” (let by the arch villain Bad Horse, the Thoroughbred of Sin) but is constantly foiled by his nemesis, Captain Hammer. He is also secretly in love with a woman from the laundromat, Penny, who works with the homeless. This doesn’t sound serious to you, does it? Nope. Dr. Horible even has a sidekick named Moist  whose henchman skill is making things soggy (“At my most bad ass I make people want to take a shower”). I suspect you can guess the tone of the piece.

So the first thing that I find so engaging about this show is that the villain is the protagonist. I mean, he keeps saying he’s evil and he wants to join the evil gang, but Dr. Horrible is really not that effective as a bad guy. His alter ego, Billy, is just neurotic and anti-social and his fumbling attempts to talk to Penny while doing laundry is endearing. And he doesn’t want to have a showdown in a park because there might be children around. But he wants so badly to be evil… It just isn’t working out for him and you kind of feel bad for him. And the “good guy” is a total prick. Captain Hammer is rude, chauvanistic, shallow, and egomaniacal. And he steals Penny just to mess with poor, lovable Billy. So as an audience, you are set up to like the villain and hate the hero. And because of that inconsistency, I think you spend the whole story waiting, expecting Billy to turn it around and embrace the good that Penny brings out in him. You just know that she’s going to trigger his epiphany and he’ll turn to the light side. Penny is like his conscience – Billy can’t ever really commit to being Dr. Horrible because he knows that Penny (good, sweet, pure Penny) would never love someone who was truly evil.

And then she dies. And it’s Billy’s fault.

You see, Billy is trying to kill Captain Hammer. He has to do it to get into the Evil League of Evil and if he doesn’t then Bad Horse will have Billy whacked. But Billy just can’t do it. He can’t pull the trigger because in the final moment, he really is a good guy – and that good guy urge is triggered by Penny. He doesn’t want Penny to see him commit a real act of evil and so his love for her makes him hesitate. You can feel the change coming as he lowers the gun… and then there’s some havoc and the gun explodes, and Captain Hammer runs away. Billy realizes that he’s won without any bloodshed and he’s stunned by his unexpected victory. As he looks around unbelieveing at his triumph he sees Penny, who has been fatally injured by the explosion.

And this is the moment that makes the whole piece sing for me (no pun intended). You see, up to this point the show has been so comical – they sing about laundry and there’s frozen yogurt and sporks and it’s just so random and silly. But then suddenly, in that climactic moment, the whole piece becomes this beautiful morality tale and it’s so unexpected. Penny’s death and Billy’s lyrical response is disarming and as an audience, you are so unprepared for it – and that makes it a million times more effective.

And I think that is the lesson here. Dramatic moments in a story are more effective when they blindside you. They can’t be totally disconnected form the story – they have to be believable. But if a moment of loss can be hidden from the reader then it will hurt them more. And that emotional surge will connect them more viscerally to the story. I’ve seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog dozens of times and I still cry everytime I hear the song he sings after Penny dies. Part of it is that the song, itself, is beautifully crafted to elict that response, but part of it is that I can see Billy die in that moment, too. I was so looking forward to seeing him choose Penny over evil and all my hopes for that happye ending are crushed. So I mourn that symbolic death of good.

Damn, Joss Whedon is good. Seriously, so brilliant. And it’s hidden in such frivolous camouflage. Masterful.

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Blog Campaign!

I’ve joined the third annual Writer’s Platform Campaign! It’s sponsored by Rachael Harrie at Rach Writes and I’m excited to start meeting more of my fellow writing bloggers!

Sorry, that’s all I have today. I got all wrapped up in finishing an art commission and all my creativity has been suborned. It’ll be done soon and I promise I’ll come up with something pithy!

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Cats spell better than 90%* of Americans

Whenever I read something that has excessive commas (or hyphens or ellipses) or just bad grammar I think of this post from Hyperbole and a Half and I laugh instead of reaching for a red pen – The Alot. I wish all grammar mistakes were so cute and cuddly.

    Allie Brosh

I also think of the Alot when I see LOLCat-style spelling.  I know, I know. The LOLCat is a super craze and grown adults world wide have embraced ebonics. But I think of cats as being really good spellers. In fact, I believe that cats are even more anal retentive about punctuation than I am, so how could they ever spell like that? It’s slanderous. I believe that TS Elliot should haunt the icanhazcheezburger site and everyone who contributes to it. Cats are cute and no denying, but seriously people. They can totally spell. And they can do it without spellcheck. How many of us can say that?

Maybe that explains it – we’re jealous of the superior writing prowess of cats and so we, as a nation, are trying to bring them down.

 

I would like to dedicate this post to my late cats (I traded them for babies), one of which          would have punched me in the face if he ever caught me using such atrocious spelling.            Literally. He was a really mean cat.

Not this one. She would have just pooped on something. But can’t you just feel the                      indignant power of that stare? She knows how to rock a semi-colon and she’ll make sure        you know, too. Who needs a red pen when you have poop?

 

 

 

 

* That figure is completely reliable. No really, It’s from Wikipedia**.

** I made that up. Sorry. On an unrelated note, I went to a talk about research this week and the speaker actually said that Wikipedia is the best research tool ever. Really? Huh.

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Evocative Language

When I was in middle school I kept a poetry journal. Not mine, mind you. Like most middle school girls, I DID write poetry but it was pretty pretentious and crappy. I kept a journal of other people’s poetry and I set a lot of it to music when I was in high school and early college. Interestingly, once I stopped writing music, I also stopped keeping a poetry journal.

Well, when I started writing a few years ago, I decided to make a new journal. I love a beautiful turn of phrase and I think you can get away with much more lyrical language in poetry than in prose (not always true, I know). I went to a writing conference and heard Monte Schulz speak (This Side of Jordan) and one of his major themes was that there shouldn’t be this huge linguistic divide between commercial and literary fiction. Just because Stephen King doesn’t use poetic language doesn’t mean you can’t. He suggested keeping a journal of beautiful lines from any and all sources to use as an inspiration and so I did. In an ironic aside, I hated his book. He talked about finding the voice of a period (This Side of Jordan is depression era) and using the language as it’s own character. While I loved that as a theory, I only got half-way through the book before I got so annoyed at the stilted dialogue that I gave up (and I rarely give up on books). Oh well. He was still one of the most engaging speakers I’ve ever heard and I felt like he’d given me permission to wax poetical even though I was writing in a commercial genre.

Looking through the new incarnation of my journal, I am finding a lot of song lyrics. You know how tunes get stuck in your head sometimes? I have this problem (perpetually) but I also get text stuck in my head (it’s even more tenacious when its a line with a lovely tune, too). So I thought I would maybe use these mini-lyric-obsessions for blog topics.

This week, I am listening to the King is Dead by The Decemberists. They totally cheat in the beautiful/evocative lyric category because their lead singer/somgwriter is actually an english professor somewhere. And the songs are not about normal modern song topics. They’re about british serial killers and highwaymen and the seventeenth century Spanish monarchy and Stalin-era genetic engineering. This album is about war in all its myriad forms and there are a handful of lines that I am haunted by. I’m curious how they communicate without the music – I can’t separate my feelings about the words form their tunes in my head so I’m not impartial. Here they are, in no particular order:

“This bulkhead’s built of fallen brethren bones”  & “There’s plenty of men to die, you don’t jump your turn” Rox in the Box

What a creepy image. If you think about it literally, you can imagine a soldier sheltering under the bodies of fallen comrades. I get the idea of those dead protecting the speaker and I think its such a beautiful way to say something that could be described very prosaically – like, “I was sheltering behind the dead bodies”. But the “fallen brethren bones” is so evocative. It gives so much mood but it keeps the image clean (there’s no decaying flesh or steaming entrails). And the second phrase makes me think of that character trying to die to avenge the other soldiers? Taking too many risks out of fear or despair or anger? I have a whole story in my head from just those two lines, but that story is only intimated. It gives me so much creative license and the language is so beautiful it really encourages me to make that story – and make it beautiful.

I lived a childhood in snow” January Hymn

This one is both literally descriptive and figuratively stirring. Again, I could write a whole character just from that phrase. This song happens to be very singable, and I love the way this line feels when sung. I just want to roll it around in my mouth.

“You’re standing on the landing with the war you shouldered all the night before” June Hymn

Can’t you just see this character? I actually get an image of Anne Shirley in Rilla of Ingleside when she finds out that her son is killed in WW1. Again, this phrase is beautiful and I get such an immediate flash of who it describes. The rest of the song describes flowers and birds and to have this line in the middle of a pastoral description is a cool effect – it almost gets lost, like you can be in a beautiful place and almost forget the horrors of the world. Almost. It also has a lovely sense of renewal – the war was “last night” and now the world is new and the birds are still singing and the vines are still in bloom. Delightful.

“A barony of ivy in the trees; expanding out its empire by degrees” June Hymn

Thats just a really cool metaphor.

“Come attrition, come the reek of bones” & “Bride of Quiet; Bride of all unquiet things” This is Why We Fight

Again, so creepy. And what active and interesting word choice! And the video is really neat – in a Lord of the Flies kind of way.

 

So anyway. That’s what I’m in the grips of this week.

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Filed under Poetry, Reflection